Echando la Culpa: Social Barriers to Climate Change Adaptation in Peru's Rio Santa Basin

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Hulsey, Samuel
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University Honors College, Middle Tennessee State University
Climate change affects a variety of natural resources, but its impact on water availability warrants the most concern. This issue highlights that systems developed to allocate water resources have a low capacity to adapt to shifts in hydrological regimes. Variations in water availability are most pressing in low-lying geographical areas surrounding the Peruvian glaciated mountain range, the Cordillera Blanca, where subsistence agriculture, hydro-electric projects, and coastal commercial farms compete for seemingly dwindling hydrological resources. In spite of documented glacial retreat and increasingly unpredictable seasonal rains, do popular claims of physical scarcity reflect the reality of water availability in this Andean basin? Do all actors view scarcity in the same way? How do contradicting views of the origin and legitimacy of scarcity impede adaptation measures in preparing for an envisioned future with significantly less water? These questions are addressed in the present study through qualitative research methods, particularly semi-structured interviews that were conducted (n = 28) highlighting perceptions of root causes of scarcity among actors in the Río Santa Basin. Interview data were analyzed collectively, allowing participants to be categorized into discourse coalitions based on expressed notions of causality of scarcity and recommendations for future adaptation policy. Inconsistencies and contradictions were highlighted among these expressed perceptions of participants, resulting in the identification of two distinct discourse coalitions. One group insisted scarcity is a purely natural phenomenon, while the other claimed it to be rooted in human activities.
Peru, climate change, water scarcity, political ecology